Forthcoming features

In addition to various tutorials, news stories and other magazine pieces, I’ve got a few big features coming up that would benefit from expert comment. If any nice PR people are reading this, I’d be very interested in hearing from experts in the following two areas:

DRM: the pros and cons of copy protection.
Driving traffic to your Web site: search engine optimisation, making sites “sticky”, viral marketing.

Both features are deadlined for early August.

The Bootleg Beatles (and Beasties, and…)

The latest press release from the BPI has landed on my desk, and there are some worrying figures in there: piracy – proper piracy, not file sharing – in the UK grew by 13% last year, netting around 56 million pounds for the perpetrators.

It ties in with a feature I’ve been doing for PC Plus about the global counterfeiting trade, and while a lot of the anti-counterfeit groups’ claims are questionable (the link between counterfeiting and terrorism, which is the subject of a current UK poster campaign, is tenuous to say the least) there’s no doubt that making fake goods is big business for organised crime.

There’s an irony here: in a world where we’re all urged to boycott sweat shops, drink fair trade coffee and the like, we still see counterfeiting as a way of getting back at big corporations. However, while it’s seen as a victimless crime it’s anything but: the stats I’ve been looking at suggest it displaces 200,000 jobs worldwide, and the people behind it don’t give a toss about providing safe or even civilised working conditions for the people they employ. Reading through endless descriptions of people blinded by fake vodka and whisky, kids harmed by dangerous toys and severe skin reactions resulting from the crap that goes into some fake printer ink cartridges, it’s difficult to see the counterfeiters as the modern day Robin Hoods they often claim to be.

Even journos get the blues

I’ve written extensively about credit card fraud and as a result, I’m bordering on the paranoid: I won’t shop on sites that aren’t secure, I never let my credit card out of my sight, and so on. However, that hasn’t stopped me from becoming a victim of card fraud: I discovered this morning that my joint credit card has been defrauded to the tune of £1,000-plus. What’s really galling is that one of the purchases seems to have been a computer from Time. Time? I ask you!

I’m not greatly worried – the bank’s fraud squad is on the case – but I am intrigued, especially as a quick look at Time’s web site suggests that you can’t order without knowing the security code on the back of the card. Given that there’s only one transaction where I told someone the CVS code, which was when I purchased car insurance over the phone, it looks awfully like a case of fraud by an employee of the firm. Naturally I can’t prove it, and the bank isn’t exactly forthcoming with information, but it seems the most likely explanation.

The moral? Check your statements carefully. Until yesterday, I was the only person my wife knew who hadn’t been a victim of card fraud. Now I’ve joined the club.

U2 versus the evil internet pirates, part 1

Apparently U2 have lost a rough cut of their forthcoming album at a photo shoot. It’s not the first time this has happened: Pop leaked on the Web a few months before its release, rough recordings for Achtung Baby were nicked from the studio a few years before that, and something in the back of my mind tells me they lost demos or rough cuts in the early 80s too.

Inevitably, everyone’s worried that it’ll end up on the Web like the last few Radiohead albums, whose web leaks generated, er, months of publicity and, er, rocketed the albums to the top of the charts on the day of release. But of course, records don’t get leaked to the Web deliberately and only a cynic would suggest otherwise.

A tale of two CDs

With music, I often need instant gratification: I’ll hear a song on the radio or on a music channel and I’ve got to have it. Here’s two examples of that in action – the first shows how it should work, and the second shows why downloading isn’t going away.

Snow Patrol – Chocolate
Heard it on MTV2, liked it, went online to the Apple music store and bought the song. Bought the album (on CD) the next day.

Unnamed pop song [details withheld for legal reasons]
Heard it on The Box and on Radio 1, went to the Apple music store. Not there. Went to Napster. Not there. MyCokeMusic. Not there. Discovered that despite it being on heavy rotation on radio and TV, it doesn’t come out for another six weeks. Went on Gnutella. Downloaded it. Will no doubt be utterly sick of it by the time it goes on sale, so there’s very little chance that I’ll buy the record.